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Football: Hooker looking to overcome injury before 2017 NFL season

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Former OSU safety Malik Hooker speaks during the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis on March 5. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Sports Director

INDIANAPOLIS — The Malik Hooker success story at Ohio State was nearly complete. The former three-star recruit, replacing 2016 second-round NFL Draft pick Vonn Bell, took full advantage of his opportunity, intercepting seven passes and returning three for touchdowns in the 2016 season. His performance propelled the safety up NFL team draft boards.

But on Nov. 26, during the Buckeyes’ 30-27 overtime win against Michigan, he injured himself, requiring hip labrum and sports hernia surgeries.

Despite his rising draft stock, Hooker never considered skipping the Fiesta Bowl.

“That was never a thought,” Hooker said at the Indiana Convention Center on Sunday during the NFL combine. “Just because I put too much work in with those guys. It would be like I’m letting them down.”

He said the injury hurt, but joked about taking six ibuprofen tablets prior to his team’s bowl game.

“As the game went on, it was something that I wasn’t paying attention to. I was just going out there trying to compete and get the win for the team,” Hooker said.

Hooker had surgery on Jan. 16 and looks to return for rookie minicamp in July. He did not need to have the procedure done but opted to since he felt he would be fully recovered for rookie minicamp.

“I just felt like, in order for me to go out there and compete with the best of the best in the National Football League, I felt like it was what was necessary because I wasn’t 100 percent or nowhere near it. I was probably about 78 percent,” Hooker said.

Due to his recent surgery, teams were unable to check on Hooker’s leg. They focused on his upper body instead, according to the safety.

Though he said he played through the injuries without much worry, NFL teams might proceed with a much more cautious approach. In ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest mock draft, Hooker is projected at the seventh overall pick. Last year’s seventh pick, San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner, earned a contract guaranteeing him over $18 million.

Hooker believes NFL teams should overlook his injury and focus on his play at OSU.

“I wouldn’t really pay no mind into that,” Hooker said. “Just simply because the film says what it says.”

Hooker isn’t alone at the combine. He, along with seven former teammates including defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, are in Indianapolis. But unlike Lattimore and Conley, he will not take part in on-field drills and workouts.

With the triumvirate of former starting OSU defensive backs heading to the NFL, three starting spots in the Buckeyes defensive backfield open. Hooker believes the replacements will be special once again next season.

“It’s the culture of the program. We build, we reload,” Hooker said.

The combine wraps up on Monday as defensive backs, sans Hooker, work out on the field. The 2017 NFL Draft will begin on April 27 in Chicago.

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